waymo minivan

Waymo’s driverless taxi service gets first US state approval from Arizona

Waymo is moving forward with a driverless taxi service after Arizona became the first US state to approve it for commercial operations without a human driver.

The move will put Google’s driverless spin-off company in direct competition with Uber, which itself began autonomous trials in Pittsburgh in 2016

Waymo has been testing its technology for several years, but a commercial service has not been rolled out so far.

In addition, all of the test vehicles needed to have a human driver at the wheel so that they could take control at a moment’s notice should the autonomous software drive in a dangerous fashion.

The Arizona service represents the first time such a requirement has not been stipulated.

“As we continue to test-drive our fleet of vehicles in greater Phoenix, we’re taking all the steps necessary to launch our commercial service this year,” a Waymo spokesman told Bloomberg.

It recently struck a multi-million dollar deal with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to provide it with thousands of Pacifica Hybrid minivans. 

The Arizona Department of Transportation approved Waymo for a permit on 24 January following an application for the company on 12 January.

The application reportedly contained images of the autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans.

Waymo hasn’t revealed details of the service or the price that it will charge riders, but without human drivers the cost is likely to be competitively pitched against ride-sharing business rivals such as Uber and Lyft.

Uber recently paid Waymo $245m to drop a court case over its driverless technology.

Waymo alleged that Uber stole some of its driverless car secrets in order to gain a foothold in a technological race that it was losing.

In a July 2016 interview, Uber’s then CEO Travis Kalanick said: “The minute it was clear that Google was getting into the ride-sharing space, we realised we needed to make sure there was an alternative, because if there is not, we will be out of business.”

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